West End legend John Owen-Jones is shortly to become a very busy man. February 11th sees hims take to the stage with Katherine Jenkins on the first night of her headline tour of the UK. John also has a new album, Rise, due for release on 2 March and if that wasn't enough, it's just been announced that he will star as Pirelli in the much anticipated ENO production of Sweeney Todd from 30 March to 12 April this year!
In advance of all this, I caught up with him to ask a few questions about touring, recording and Alfie Boe.
How did you choose the tracks for Rise - and what didn't make the cut? It's a lengthy process actually. I spent a year putting together various tracklistings with various concepts attached to them but in the end went for a tracklisting that had variety. At one point I had a Rolling Stones track, something from a very rarely performed musical, an opera track, a prog rock track...the list goes on. But I very much wanted the album to be cohesive and some songs I really liked just didn't fit well enough with some of my favourites. So they had to go. Hopefully I'll use them down the line somewhere.
How do you choose duetting partners on your albums, in this case Ruthie Henshall and Madalena Alberto? I try to choose singers I like that really fit the song well. I also choose people I'm friends with as there is already chemistry there. There were ideas for other duets but I knew I wanted to work with Ruthie and Madalena at some point as I think they are both brilliant. When putting the album together I knew I had the perfect songs for them to shine on so it ended up being an easy choice to have them on the album. I'm lucky they said yes!
You mix and produce your own music, why is that and what does it involve (most of us have no clue!)? Basically producing is pulling all the different elements of making a recording together and mixing is blending the various sounds together to make it sound as good as possible. A couple of months before recording starts I sit down with my record company and decide on the final tracks for the album. Then my musical director John Quirk and I go through each song and how it should sound, what instruments are needed etc. We then demo the songs with a just piano and vocal to get a feel for how the album should flow and how the songs sound together. I then arrange a running order of songs and start coming up with ideas for artwork while John arranges the music and books the musicians. We then rehearse and record the musicians over a few days whilst I sing a guide vocal to set tempos. After the music is recorded I'll record my vocals which can take several weeks depending on the nature of the material. Guests artistes then record their contribution and the mixing process starts. This basically involves balancing all the sounds recorded. A trumpet may be too loud on one small part of a track for example so we adjust the volume to make it sit better in the overall sound. During mixing we may end up dropping or adding instruments as necessary, changing certain vocals, adding harmonics, sound effects and many other things. The end result is hopefully what I hear in my head. If not, things get tweaked until it sounds right to me. Mixing can be a very time consuming process as you have to mix and listen to every track dozens of times. On an album thats an average of 45 mins long that takes ages. It's a finicky slow process but one which I enjoy as I love sculpting the sound. There are many singers out there who have nothing to do with this process and just record the vocals. That's fine but it's not really me. I love the idea that I'm shaping something artistic when I record an album and want to be involved in every aspect of production if I can.
What are you most looking forward to about touring with Katherine Jenkins and will you be duetting with her in the show? I will be singing with her, yes. I'm looking forward to that. I'm also looking forward to performing in venues/cities I've never been to before and meeting lots of new people. (Tickets are still available, click here).
If you concentrate on your solo music, will we be seeing you on your own headline tour? Hopefully! If audiences and promoters want me I'll do it! Pretty sure there's an audience out there for you John!
What is your favourite song to sing and what is the song you have sung most? Probably Bring Him Home from Les Miz. That answers both those questions I think!
If there is one song that Alfie Boe fans expect him to sing at a concert it is Bring Him Home; do your fans have that same expectation of you? Of course. Luckily I love singing it.
The video (below) of you and Alfie singing BHH at his RAH concert in 2013 has over 122,000 views - any plans to worth with him again? Not at the moment - but hopefully our paths will cross again. I didn't plan to work with him that night at the Albert Hall. He dragged me up onstage with no rehearsal, totally unprompted. It was a shock to say the least. I really enjoyed it though! The bloke sitting in the seat next to me didn't know who I was (he'd been dragged along to the show by his wife I think) and was gobsmacked when I joined Alfie onstage!
This interview first appeared on www.thoughtsofjustafan.com.
Thank you to Jacqui Archer for her help with this!